Tuesday, September 11, 2018

An Educator’s Guide to Using Game Mechanics for the Win

Research indicates that worldwide revenues for game-based learning will climb from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $7.3 billion by 2021. This dramatic rise is proof enough that games are an exceptional learning aid. Since enough has been spoken about the usefulness of games for learning, I shall refrain from sharing further thoughts on the same, and instead talk about something equally significant but less explored - the usefulness of game mechanics in educational game design.  

Players seek risks, challenges, rewards, and recognition when they play a game. Application of various game mechanics to learning experiences can help fulfill these ‘human motivations’. When you design a learning game, you need to choose mechanics that seem appealing for your students, whilst also ensuring that they gel well with the context and the overall learning objectives. While there are many prevalent mechanics, we shall only be talking about some common ones in this blog. I shall also list down relevant game ideas that generally employ these mechanics. Here we go:


We all know what points are. Simply put, they are running numerical value related to your actions. Points are generally perceived as a form of ‘feedback’ or ‘rewards’ in learning games.

A game designed on the format of popular television show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ is a great example of using points as rewards for motivation. Feud game show is another interesting game format that incorporates points.


Players may be awarded badges once they accumulate a certain number of points. Badges fulfill the motivational need of ‘achievement’.

Games that deploy simulated real life scenarios are a good candidate for this game mechanic. Provide a badge every time the player moves ahead without faltering in the scenario. A game like Classdojo also makes good use of this mechanic. It uses technology to track students’ behavior. Students can be assigned distinct avatars and can be administered either a reward/badge or consequence by the educator based on their classroom behavior.


Bronze-silver-gold! Sounds familiar? Levels are systems that represent cumulative score. They fulfill the motivational driver indicating ‘status’.

Jeopardy is one game format that uses levels effectively. The previously cited ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ is another game example which incorporates levels. These games use points and levels together to motivate learners. Players can earn some points whenever they reach a milestone, and after they have accumulated a certain number of points, they move a level higher.


This is where you compete - sometimes with time limits - to overcome obstacles. A challenge when fulfilled implies ‘achievement’ of some sort.

A timed crossword or jigsaw puzzle is a good example of a game format that employs challenge as a game mechanic. Memory games, Sudoku are some other examples of games that challenge learners’ recall abilities and logical thinking.


Pretty self-explanatory, this game mechanic builds its way through human emotions. Excitement, humor, surprise, and happiness are some emotions pertinent to this game mechanic. 

A game like ‘spin the wheel’ where players spin a digital wheel and are posed questions based on where the needle rests, is a great way to leverage the emotion of excitement in a player.
‘Treasure hunt’ is another game format that builds on the emotion of ‘surprise’.


Goals give clarity and purpose. They represent a pre-defined milestone that lets them gauge their own progress and feel ‘accomplished’ once fulfilled.

A game narrative like ‘climb the peak’ where you draw players into the setup of a valley, where they need to climb a peak as the ultimate goal, while answering contextual questions on the way, is a wonderful example of the use of this mechanic.  


You want your name there - on a scoreboard showing the names or scores of the leading players. Leaderboards encourage ‘competition’.

You may build a leaderboard for any game using scores, badges, levels, or goals. A casino style slot machine is a great game for leaderboard display. These leaderboards could be setup manually in your classroom or through your Learning Management System.

Game mechanics are the most prominent element of your game design. To be successful, they need to be selected based on a thorough understanding of the player, the mission and human motivation. Hope our game ideas come handy when you shortlist your game mechanics. Do let us know through comments below about your favorite learning games and the game mechanics used in them.

A lot of educators rely on Raptivity to build interactive games for their classrooms. Raptivity provides multiple ready-to-use game templates and incorporating a variety of game mechanics, to be used in your learning modules. To find out more about Raptivity games, take a free trial here.